Alabama to build 2 prisons with rescue funds
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Amid a nationwide debate over the use of pandemic relief funds, Alabama lawmakers on Friday quickly approved a plan to draw $ 400 million from the US bailout for help build two sizeable prisons, fending off criticism from Congressional Democrats that the money was not intended for such projects.
In a bipartisan vote that elicited little dissent, the Alabama Senate voted 29-2 to approve the plan to build a $ 1.3 billion prison and 30-1 to lead $ 400 million. dollars of the state’s $ 2.1 billion from rescue funds to pay it off.
With the legislative leaders behind her, Governor Kay Ivey signed the bills. The Republican called the construction plan a “major step forward” for the prison system which faces orders from federal courts and legal action from the US Department of Justice.
“This is a pivotal moment in the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system,” Ivey said.
Republican Senator Greg Albritton said state officials believe they can legally use pandemic funds. Building to replace many existing prisons “will go a long way” to solve the state’s longstanding problems in prisons, he said.
“It was the right thing to do for Alabama. We have crumbling infrastructure. We have people housed in dirty places. We have people working in dangerous conditions,” Albritton said.
President Joe Biden’s sweeping $ 1.9 trillion covid-19 bailout was signed in March, providing a flow of funds to states and cities to recover from the pandemic.
Alabama’s plan drew fierce criticism from some Congressional Democrats who said building prisons was not the intention of the relief bill. Republicans said the rules give them discretion to spend the money on what they see as their greatest need.
The US Department of Justice has sued Alabama for a prison system “riddled with violence between prisoners and prison guards.”
In a previous report, he said dilapidated facilities were a contributing factor to the unconstitutional conditions. The Justice Department wrote, however, that “the new facilities alone will not solve” the problem due to cultural issues, managerial deficiencies, corruption, violence and other issues.
Democratic Senator Billy Beasley, the only senator to vote against the measure, had opposed the bills and feared that correctional facilities in his district would close under the plan, dealing an economic blow to his rural district. He and several Democrats have urged the state to quickly allocate the remaining $ 1.7 billion of US bailout funds to health care and other needs.
“Hospitals in Alabama have really been under tremendous pressure.… We need to use more of the bailout money to help hospitals in the state of Alabama,” Beasley said.
US House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, DN.Y. this week sent a letter to Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen asking the Treasury to “prevent the misuse of [American Rescue Plan] funding by any state, including Alabama “to build prisons.
Ivey responded in his own letter, writing: “The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had a problem with investing trillions of dollars in their favorite ideological projects.
Asked about Alabama’s plan on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “I would be surprised if that was the intent of the funding.”
Republican legislative leaders said they were comfortable being able to use the funds legally because the US bailout, in addition to allowing dollars for economic and health care programs, says states can use money to replace income lost during the pandemic to strengthen support for public services and help maintain jobs.
The Alabama jail construction proposal calls for three new prisons – one in Elmore County with at least 4,000 beds and improved space for medical and mental health needs; another prison with at least 4,000 beds in Escambia County; and a women’s prison – as well as renovations to existing facilities. Six current facilities would close.